Sahr and Nyumah

On a warm late-March evening, the sky still swirling with the after clouds of an unexpected storm, two young Sierra Leonean men stood before a bonfire, surrounded by their families, elders, and neighbors from surrounding villages. Once the closest of friends, Sahr and Nyumah had been brutally torn apart by the war while still in their early teens—one boy forced by rebel soldiers to beat his friend and kill his friend’s father.

The two came face to face that night, with each other and with their pasts. They stood to testify before the village bonfire in Gbekedu as a part of one of the first community ceremonies in the Fambul Tok process. Boyhood friends, the two were barely teenagers when the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invaded their villages, which are located near the Liberian border. Sahr and his father fled into the bush, only to be captured by RUF soldiers. At the bonfire that night, Sahr spoke of how the rebels ordered him to kill his father and of his repeated refusal.  His close friend, Nyumah, had also been taken by the rebels and was there in the bush, Sahr testified. The rebels ordered Nyumah to beat his friend, under threat of death, for defying their orders to kill his father. Nyumah complied, beating his friend so severely that even today Sahr’s body remains misshapen, and he is able to walk only with great difficulty, supported by a cane.  The rebels then forced Nyumah to take the knife and slit the throat of Sahr’s father.

Living since the end of the war in villages just a mile or so apart, the former friends had not spoken about these events until this evening.  Acknowledging what he had done, bowing in a deep gesture of deference and apology, Nyumah asked his friend for forgiveness—which Sahr immediately gave. As was the case with each pair of testifiers that evening, villagers broke into song as the young men embraced and danced around the bonfire.

The next day, the men had the opportunity to participate in a cleansing ceremony, along with the others who had testified the previous evening.  They have since rekindled their friendship, frequently visit with each other, and Nyumah regularly helps Sahr with farming and meeting other basic needs.

“Before, we had no peace with each other.  There was no friendship.  It is only because of Fambul Tok that we have been able to come together. If this had stayed in our minds, it would have been bad.  It would still be in my mind.  I have forgiven him for whatever bad he has done to me.  It’s not easy, but it comes deeply from my heart.  I want this forgiveness to last forever and ever.” — Sahr J., victim, Kpekeledu, Kailahun district, following the bonfire and cleansing.

“Since Fambul Tok has come and my friend has said he has forgiven me, the guilt is still with me, but with time I will get over it.  As long as my friend has forgiven me, I will get over it gradually.” Nyumah B. – perpetrator, Kpekedu village, Kailahun district, following the bonfire and cleansing.